Day 25: Hanoi, Vietnam Part 2

by - May 24, 2011

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
I figured that two half days in Hanoi would be enough to feel I had covered it.  I had already seen most of the pleasant areas of the city and all that was missing was a trip to some of the key locations.  First amongst these was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a building that actually contains the preserved body of the famous Vietnamese leader.  It is the holiest of holy sights for the population of the country and protocol stated that I would have to go out into the intense Hanoi heat in my trousers.  I took a bike across the city, not because it was far, but because it would be my last ride in Vietnam.  It was fairly cheap, so I didn’t mind.

A whole lot of communism
When I arrived I found that the entrance was chaos.  Whoever had designed the Mausoleum had not taken into account the fact that people would have to drop off their luggage (as bags and food are banned), so the baggage store was a complete free for all.  Which was very un-communist.  Having dropped my bag off, I got into the queue that was shepherded around the complex by armed guards with bayonets.  We weren’t allowed to stop moving, and only got a couple of minutes looking at Uncle Ho’s body.  The layout of the room is similar to that containing the Bayeux Tapestry - except with a corpse in the middle, surrounded by 4 men with rifles.  It was interesting to see his body, but it was also pretty weird.  I was only really seeing it because of a sense of history and because of a slight morbid fascination - whereas for some locals it would be a real life experience.  After the Mausoleum itself, we were shepherded towards the house that Ho Chi Minh used to live in.  This was nothing special - just a nice villa with a lake.  Pardon my lack of enthusiasm for the whole thing, but I was in a bad mood for most of the morning due to the heat and being pushed around by communist soldiers.  The last stop was pretty ridiculous as well.  It was the Ho Chi Minh museum, but all of the displays had been made in symbolism.  It was the equivalent of the British Museum being designed by the makers of the Tate Modern.  It had obviously had a lot of money spent on it, and had a lot of interesting looking artifacts, but the key problem was that I had no idea what was being shown.

Temple of Literature
Anyway, after all of this I walked towards the slightly more peaceful Temple of Literature, which is the oldest university in the city and serves as a temple to Confucius, whose ideas and doctrines have shaped much of modern Vietnamese thought.  Next to the temple was a restaurant called KOTO, which had been recommended as a place where street kids are trained in catering and cooking.  This seemed an apt place for my last meal in Vietnam.  KOTO stands for ‘Know One Teach One’ and is a well respected charity that opened its first restaurant in Hanoi with the blessing of the Australian ambassador.  They are currently raising money for another outlet in Saigon.  Unfortunately my food wasn’t great - it was presented superbly and the service was great, just the chicken wasn’t a great cut.  Don’t let that put you off going - everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves and its a great cause. Just don’t ask for the chicken.

My first international flight with a propeller plane
I now had a few hours to kill before my flight, which I spent wandering around the bookshops of Hanoi.  Books in the city are very cheap, because the locals tend to have a habit of photocopying originals and re-binding them.  It is very much a copy culture - just look at Hoi An, where you take a clothing magazine and they reproduce your item at a fraction of the price.  I have heard that as many as 90% of computers here run fake versions of Windows.  Anyway, having decided against buying anymore fake books (I bought 'The Three Musketeers’ yesterday for a pound), I headed back to pick up a taxi from the hotel and headed for the airport, for my flight to Luang Prabang in Laos.  I would thoroughly recommend the 'Rising Dragon’ hotel to anybody who is in Hanoi - cheap, classy and helpful.  The airport was pretty small, as was my Lao Airlines plane - the first international flight I have experienced in a plane with a propeller.  It was very pleasant though and the plane was pretty empty - the flight only lasted an hour. 

On arrival however I had one of, if not the, most rubbish travel experience I have ever had.  Lao visas are issued at the border, but only if you have dollars or Lao Kip.  My Cambodian visa on arrival had been easy as there was a cash point at Siem Reap airport, however the only cash point at Luang Prabang airport was on the other side of customs.  Having explained this to the border guard he reluctantly let me through the border, only for me to find that my card wouldn’t work in the machine.  In the queue before we realised this problem, a Canadian girl had needed to borrow a dollar from me so that she could get a passport photo taken (I had already brought some from England).  Luckily, in a great example of what goes around comes around, she realised my predicament and lent me the money for the visa (about 20 pounds) on the condition I paid it when I got to Luang Prabang.  Long story short, I made it to my hostel and paid back the Canadian girl, but it had been a real horrid hour or so.  What made it worse was that we were the last flight in of the evening and with it being such a small airport they were trying to shut it all up - with us trapped on the wrong side of the border.  But oh well. All’s well that ends well, and now I’m in Laos.

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